From wanting to eat nothing but spaghetti for the whole week to splattering the vegetables onto the high-chair tray and floor, feeding a picky eater can be frustrating, stressful and make us feel like we’re failing in some way. However, don’t despair or take the rejection of your cuisine personally as being a picky eater is part of what it means to be a toddler.
The experts at Nestlé, the world's largest Food and Beverage company, share what you need to know about children who make meal times hard, as well as tips for every kind of feeding confrontation.
Why are toddler’s fussy eaters?
Nearly 1/3 of all young kids may have some kind of feeding challenges, but they do have legitimate reasons for pecking and poking at their food. This can be down to genetics as babies are born with a preference for sweet or salty taste, or the fact toddlers prefer to play and explore the world around them rather than sit down. Plus, the type of interactions parents have with their children influence their eating behaviour. In other words, the more you force children to eat, the more resistant they will be. Additionally, certain medical conditions such as food allergies or problems with oral/motor skills could be a cause, which is why it’s important to consult your paediatrician. Children also tend to lose their appetites while teething and biting solid foods may cause pain.
How serious can it be?
Picky eating can affect children’s overall nutrition and wellbeing since compromised feeding can put them at risk of not receiving all the essential nutrients they need to grow and develop properly. Here are some of the potential risks:
- Lower body weight
- Weakened immunity
- Less energy
- Digestive health problems
- Compromised mental and visual development
So how can you make sure your picky eater gets his needed nutrition?
As well as buying the right food, preparing it in a healthy way and serving it creatively, here is what you can do if your child:
Eats too slowly
- Seat your child at the table and avoid distraction during mealtime, so they shouldn’t be around any toys or a TV
- Encourage self-feeding using utensils your child likes
- Create a calm, relaxed environment for eating
Eats very little
- Cut the food into bite-sized pieces
- Allow your children to see other children eating different foods; especially the ones they have rejected before.
- You are your children’s first role model; so they are more likely to eat the food you eat with them.
- Serve age-appropriate portions
Is not interested in food
- Offer smaller frequent meals during the day instead of three main meals
- Engage your child in grocery shopping and meal preparation
- Give your child the liberty of choosing the ingredients
- Instead of force-feeding, which triggers more rejection, offer multiple choices so that your children can choose what they like.
- Prepare dishes that are simple, plain, and recognisable, as some kids don't like foods that are mixed (like stews).
- Offer a new food many times, studies have shown that a child can refuse a certain food eight to 15 times before accepting it.
- Offer only one new food at a time and serve something that you know your child likes along with the new food.
- Give them a small taste at first and be patient with them. Eventually their taste buds will get used to the new and they will learn to enjoy it.
- Many children eat better in a group of kids, so try to regularly invite your child’s friends over, or have lunch with relatives or neighbours.
Does not drink milk
- Be creative by using the cups and straws your child likes, whether it’s a favourite colour, shape or character
- Prepare delicious milkshakes as a snack by adding their favourite fruits to the milk
- Dairy based desserts such as Mohallabiah, custard or Rez bi Halib can be a way of increasing their milk intake
Does not eat vegetables or fruits
- Try to sneak in some vegetables when making pizza or pasta sauce by including blended veggies like boiled carrots, celery, onion and cauliflower into the tomato sauce
- Create a healthy breadcrumb mix and prepare vegetable baked sticks for your kids to enjoy as a healthy snack
- Offer Jelly with fruits, making sure the fruits are small and in the Jelly not on top
- Prepare a tasty labneh or hummus dip for your kids to have with freshly cut vegetables
- Create shapes and characters out of vegetable and fruits to make them more appealing to your child
Top Tip: In addition to the tips provided above; ask your paediatrician about the newly formulated S-26 Promise PE Gold. It’s a milk-based formula enriched with nutrients scientifically designed to support your picky eater’s nutrition, immunity, visual and cognitive development. It is also fortified with optimised levels of nine essential vitamins and minerals that may be inadequate in your picky eater’s diet.